- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen has been looking for some respect.
Even after a 6-2 start that had the program bowl-eligible before November, it was hard to come by. Critics pointed to a soft schedule and the lack of a marquee win as reasons to remain unconvinced by the Terps’ turnaround.
Saturday’s 38-31 upset of No. 23 NC State was exactly the kind of win the program needed to validate and punctuate its turnaround from a 2-10 finish in 2009. With nothing but pride and Senior Day on the line, Maryland showed up and knocked the Wolfpack out of the Atlantic Division race. The win snapped a three-game losing streak against opponents ranked in the Associated Press Top 25.
“Hopefully we’ll start getting some respect,” Friedgen said after the win. “I told them this week that you’re not going to find many 8-4 teams in the country, especially where we came from. We never seem, even when we’re doing well, to beat someone. Well, we beat somebody. And hopefully we’re going to get to a bowl, the best bowl we feel we can possibly get to, and I think we should be pretty attractive to a bowl. The story we had, and the way our kids play with attitude and enthusiasm. I’m hoping that people will recognize that and be very interested in us.”
The Terps won five ACC games for the first time since 2006, and finished 5-1 at home -- the lone loss coming to Florida State, which derailed Maryland’s chance at the Atlantic Division title. Still, it didn’t damper Maryland’s enthusiasm against NC State. Receiver Torrey Smith caught a school-record four touchdown passes, and quarterback Danny O'Brien became the first Maryland player to throw for 400 yards since Scott Milanovich in 1993.
O’Brien has played a key role in the Terps’ resurgence. He threw four touchdown passes against the Wolfpack and now has 21 this season. He’s only the second player in school history to throw at least 20 touchdowns in a single season.
“Coming in last year, my first year, going 2-10 was an awful experience for everybody,” he said. “So to hang in together like we did with virtually the same team, same scheme and everything, and to have success and go 8-4 feels really good. I’m just proud to say I’m these guys’ quarterback because we have some great receivers, great o-linemen and great running backs. I’m just another piece of the puzzle, but when we execute the way we can, we’re a pretty deadly team.”
Maryland was picked to finish last in the Atlantic Division, but no team in the ACC has reversed its fortunes this year like the Terps have. In fact, the only other FBS team in the country that has increased its win total by more than six games is Miami (Ohio), which was 1-11 last year and is 8-4 this season.
“We beat a ranked team here, we kept them out of the championship, which is something we wanted to do,” said linebacker Alex Wujciak. “I just think it was a hell of a turnaround this year from a team that was 2-10 to a team that’s 8-4, and hopefully 9-4.”
The only question now is whether or not the bowl selection process gives Friedgen the respect he’s looking for. After Saturday, the Terps have earned it.
19hDavid M. Hale